University of Michigan experts: Many parents overlook risks of sledding

Titus Gonzalez goes airborne after hitting a bump while sledding where nearly a foot of snow fell over the weekend, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in a city park in Bellingham, Wash. Sunday's snow showers blew into the Pacific Northwest from the Gulf of Alaska, dumping up to 6 inches across the Seattle area. More than a foot was reported near Port Angeles across the Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) (Elaine Thompson, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ANN ARBOR – Snow days are as special as they are rare, and sledding is a common way to mark a day free of school activities.

However, doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital warn that parents may not always consider the dangers of sledding hills.

A national poll released in 2022 revealed that two in three parents said their child never wears a helmet while sledding. Additionally, reported being less likely to review safety rules with their children when sledding compared to other winter sports like skiing and snowboarding.

“Activities like sledding and skiing offer families an exciting way to enjoy the winter months outdoors,” said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark said in a release. “But parents are responsible for taking the right steps to minimize injury risks for their children.”

The University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health was conducted in October 2021 and was based on responses from 1,992 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 3-18.

According to U-M, sledding injuries are common during the winter months. Between 2008-2017, more than 220,000 patients were treated in emergency departments in the U.S. for fractures, strains, sprains and more related to sledding.

“Because sledding is so common, parents may overlook important safety concerns,” Clark said in a statement. “However, to avoid injuries, parents should ensure the sledding area is free of trees or other objects and has a flat runoff area at the bottom of the hill. Parents should also make sure children understand strategies to avoid collisions with other sledders.”

Parents who responded to the poll also said they were less likely to supervise their children when sledding than when snowmobiling, snowboarding or downhill skiing.

“Very young children need supervision at all times during winter sports activities, either from a parent or another trusted adult,” Clark said in a statement. “This allows parents to ensure children are following safety rules, and to decide to leave if the area is getting too crowded or if other people are acting unsafely.”

Below are safety guidelines for winter sports from Mott’s pediatric trauma injury prevention program:

  • Thoroughly check your surroundings to make sure the sledding hill is free of collision risks, such as light posts, trees or rocks.
  • Parents should not allow children to sled where the hill ends in a street, parking lot, pond or fence or without adequate runoff space that allows the child to slow down and get off the sled.
  • For younger children, parents should both describe and demonstrate the process for getting up the hill, ways to avoid collisions and for quickly moving to the side once they are at the bottom of the hill. They should also talk about what do in the event of a fall.
  • Children should never ride a sled that is being pulled by a motorized vehicle, including all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, tractors and dirt bikes.
  • Choose sledding hills that are snowy rather than icy, which can cause sleds to spin out or overturn. The steepness of the hill should also be appropriate for the child’s age and experience.
  • Sled during the daytime or in well-lit areas at night so hazards are visible.
  • Children should wear a fitted winter sport helmet or at least wear a bike helmet. Remember, sledding is often just as fast as or faster than riding a bike. Make sure heads are protected.
  • Kids shouldn’t race each other or lie on top of each other or parents while sledding.
  • Avoid scarves, accessories or loose clothing that could get caught in a sled or pose choking hazards.
  • Always supervise younger children.
  • Older children allowed to go sledding, skiing or snowboarding with other children should have a cell phone and one of the parents should be available to respond in case of an injury.
  • For downhill skiing or snowboarding, parents may consider enlisting the help of ski facility personnel to ensure their child’s helmet, boots and other equipment are the correct size and worn correctly.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.